Obama officials weighing 'appropriate time' for trade bill push

Obama officials weighing 'appropriate time' for trade bill push
© Greg Nash

Several top White House officials on Wednesday said they are working with Congress to pass a sweeping Asia-Pacific trade agreement as quickly as possible, arguing that delaying the deal will damage the U.S. economy.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael FromanUS will investigate aluminum imports as national security hazard Overnight Finance: WH floats Mexican import tax | Exporters move to back GOP tax proposal | Dems rip Trump adviser's Goldman Sachs payout Froman heads to Council on Foreign Relations MORE said that the Obama administration is canvassing Capitol Hill to build support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade deal between the United States and 11 other nations along the Pacific Rim, and to determine when is the best time to send the agreement to Capitol Hill.

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"We're continuing to consult with Congress, with congressional leadership, with leadership of our committees as to what the most appropriate time for introducing the implementing legislation would be," Froman told reporters on a conference call ahead of President Obama's signing of a customs enforcement measure.

"And we're continuing to build support in Congress, walk through the agreement with members, answer their questions, address issues that have come up from stakeholders and members of Congress to lay the foundation for TPP to be positively considered by Congress when the timing is right," he said. 

Jeff Zients, director of the National Economic Council, urged Congress to quickly take up the TPP, stressing that delaying the agreement's implementation will lead to significant costs for the U.S. economy. 

"We can't be on the sidelines while our competitors, like China, write the rules of the road for global trade," he said. 

"So we're committed to keeping all the options on the table in terms of timing to maximize the chances of securing the support for TPP but at the same time delay is costly," he said. 

Zients cited a recent Peterson Institute report on the TPP that said the U.S. economy could see losses on average of $94 billion a year without the deal. 

Earlier this week, the president said that he is "cautiously optimistic" that Congress will pass the TPP, while acknowledging that opposition in both parties and presidential politics may slow down the effort.

Obama said he would send the agreement to Congress for a vote “at some point this year."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Health Care: New GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Ky.) is among other leaders who have said that the TPP is unlikely to get a vote until after the November elections. 

The remarks by Froman and Zients came ahead of signing of the long-awaited customs enforcement bill at the White House, the fourth major trade measure passed by Congress since last summer.

“Once we’ve set up trade rules, people have to abide by them," Obama said during the signing. "We can’t have other countries cheating, we can’t have other countries engaged in practices that disadvantage American workers and American businesses."

Obama touted his administration's efforts to ramp up the enforcement of trade laws aimed at protecting U.S. businesses and workers.

“Overall, this is an example of smart trade policy in the 21st century," he said about the bill.

"We are not going to be able to close our borders. The global supply chain is deeply embedded in everything we do, and our exports produce jobs for Americans in every state ... so we want to trade."

The customs bill signed by the president authorizes $15 million for a first-ever trade and enforcement trust fund, provides new tools to counteract currency manipulation and prohibits the import of any products made with child and slave labor.

A new report from the National Economic Council released in conjuction with Wednesday's signing detailed the White House's efforts to wage battle with other nations over their trade policies during Obama's time in office.

Zients said that the NEC report leads to one “unmistakable conclusion” that “President Obama takes enforcing our trade agreements very seriously.”

“The president has been very clear that when foreign companies other countries fail to live up to their obligations we won’t hesitate to use every tool available to make sure our workers and our businesses are competing on a level playing field,” Zients said. 

He noted that the president secured a 10 percent increase in funding for continued trade enforcement efforts in the federal budget compromise passed by Congress in December.

The additional funding will be used to crack down on foreign companies that try to undercut U.S. firms and workers, said Zients. 

Racheting up the nation’s enforcement goes hand in hand with working with Congress to pass the TPP, he said; moving forward, the Obama administration will redouble its efforts to protect U.S. businesses and workers.

“As we keep working to get the TPP passed into law to cut 18,000 taxes and to benefit our workers and our economy we’ll also keep working to strengthen our ability to enforce those standards,” he said.

Froman called the TPP another chapter in how the nation stays globally competitive and “we want to make sure we can enforce those ground-breaking commitments” in the TPP.

Froman said that TPP differs from trade deals of the past because the pact includes stricter obligations, tougher standards and clearer timelines "that will greatly improve our ability and the ability of future administrations to enforce the agreement."

“In the weeks and months ahead you’ll hear more about how we’re going to be bolstering our efforts even further to be sure that the groundbreaking intellectual property, workers rights, environmental and other commitments in TPP will be monitored and enforced,” he said.

“That’s what we’ve been doing over the course of the last seven years, we’re going to continue to back those words with action,” Froman said.

Since 2009, the USTR has launched 20 cases with the World Trade Organization (WTO) — more than any other WTO member — and has won all that have been decided so far.

This effort includes 11 complaints against China, with wins on products from poultry to autos to high-quality steel.

Froman said those wins are worth billions of dollars to the U.S. economy.

The report also showed that the United States has started 62 anti-dumping and countervailing duty penalties in fiscal 2015, the most in 14 years.